One thing that was immediately clear was that this was a very weakened team. Given the prestige and importance of Monday's FA Youth Cup final, it was expected to be honest. Something gives me the impression the club would absolutely love it if our kids won the FA Youth Cup, what with the launch of the CFA. A symbolic, strong justification and riposte to the cynical approach many have taken to City's very valid attempts to reinvigorate the area and their youth development. Bearing that in mind, it was the reason that EDS regulars such as Barker, Maffeo and Celina were rested amongst others. It most likely came under directive from the big boys at the top of the academy food chain. Perhaps not, but that was the impression I got. If so, then Vieira had a pretty small pack to play with truth to be told.
The initial three at the back experiment in the first half was sadly dire. City struggled hugely, and it was only when we went back to something approaching our normal 4-3-3 shape in the second half that we actually did anything of note. Most were average to poor at times. Horsfield, Intima, Drury, Plummer will probably not be at the club next year, despite their ability and work rate. All worked hard, but the leap to the very top is a big one and they may struggle. Intima toiled, but lacked the required nous to to create anything of note. The other three looked out of place in City's possession style game. Smith-Brown had a bit of a nightmare - one decision to back-heel it back to Gunn was particularly questionable, but he was out of position and looked a lot more assured when he was shunted over to right back to be fair. Bryan didn't look comfortable on the left of a back 3 at all, but he'll be fine hopefully for Monday's youth final. He was subbed off but it was most likely precautionary.
Ntcham did okay, especially considering Glendon and Byrne didn't have their most effective of games. Both were sloppy and slow at times and no way near as comfortable in possession as usual. Ntcham had the most impetus and forward drive and I felt if anyone was gonna make something happen in the first half it'd be him. Angelino was tried on the left-wing, and he struggled. It was tough on teh Spaniard - how can you expect to excel in a new position when the rest of team is lacking ideas? He had little to work with. I'm kinda on the fence with whether he'll make it as a winger, but he's certainly not lacking the technical ability. He scored a hat trick the other week from the left-wing position in a much brighter and more confident team, and he was great. We'll see.
Celtic were big. Very. A strong, powerful team and they created some decent chances but I thought Gunn was exceptional. Yes, a lot of them were standard saves, but its the consistency of his play that really impresses. He just doesn't really make any mistakes. Its easy to forget he's there given our teams are usually dominant but last night really highlighted how good he is. There's a kind of assurance and arrogance in his play that you get from Courtois and Neuer - i know they're stupidly lofty comparisons but you can very much tell he's a new goalkeeper in a post-Neuer world. He has absolutely no fear of having the ball and there's an assuredness to his game already that you just don't see in most young keepers. He should be out on loan getting first team football next year somewhere. As others pointed out on the night, he's better than Hart was at this age. Definitely.
It was really notable how much the quality of the team rose instantly when Barker and Maffeo came on. Maffeo is great. It's weird to see a kid possess so much authority, especially one that is 5'8 and so young in a foreign country too. He took great pleasure in dispossessing Celtic's forwards with ease, striding past them and laying it off. At centre-back he actually reminds me of Cannavaro in his playing style. Measured, tough, elegant. He'll end up a right back and he'll end up as a full international for Spain. Definitely. Barker wasn't great, but his mere presence lived things up for us. Pozo I feel sorry for - there was some nice moments a plenty of effort. Loads. He's just not a forward and its damaging his development playing as a number nine. He needs to play as someone facing the goal, not back to it. Shame. Once it go to extra time it always seemed like City would win, for some reason. There was a confidence to the team and Gunn commands such a presence that the likelihood of a penalty shootout never felt daunting. And rightly so - all the penalties, as composed as anything, the lot of them. In the end perhaps Celtic could have felt a bit aggrieved as Gunn certainly had more to do overall, but from the second half onwards City were definitely in control, even if they did offer the odd sporadic threat. All in all, an interesting, if a little dull, night. No harm done though hopefully, and plenty learned ahead of the semi-final